Skip to main content

Full text of "Habitats For Metal Plants - Chris Whitehead"

See other formats



A field guide to 
the metallic 
plants of the 
British Isles 

Chris Whitehead 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 


Since the Industrial Revolution the soil in Britain has changed considerably 
in its formulation. Where once it almost exclusively consisted of organic 
matter, it is now likely to hold high levels of metallic elements such as iron, 
aluminium and copper. Areas where industrial processes took place in the 
past but have since been reclaimed by nature are particularly rich in this 
residual metal content. 

Plants growing in these environments have, by means of Darwinian natural 
selection coupled with sheer determination to survive, managed to 
incorporate various metals into their very DNA. The resulting species display 
a variety of features only made possible at the point where biology and 
metallurgy combine. 

The aim of this guide is to assist the amateur metallobotanist in identifying 
these enigmatic plants, and also to instil enthusiasm into those armchair 
readers who have never searched the disused foundries of Sheffield for a 
reclusive Cutleri silvaservicia or listened attentively on the hills of West 
Yorkshire for the soothing sound of a clump of Alpine Cog Daisies (Coggi 
interlockia) gently turning in the breeze. 

The two sound recordings included here have been developed to aid the 
growth of these unusual plants. By placing a speaker at either side of the 
specimen (ideally they should be equidistant and each no closer than two 
feet away) the sound produced will acoustically recreate a very favourable 
growing environment. Once brought indoors and planted in any kind of 
container what these organisms miss most are sound vibrations of a 
metallic nature. 

By regularly subjecting your plants to these carefully composed and 
scientifically tested sounds (about twice a week is the recommended 
frequency) you should begin to see them flourish and possibly even bear 
fruit. Of course not all varieties are suitable to collect. Some are protected by 
law and others are just too bad tempered, quite frankly. 

Chris Whitehead 
January 2013 

{ 2 } 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Magnetica attracticum 

The Market Harborough Magnet 
Plant grows in iron depleted soil 
and needs to supplement its intake 
by utilising highly modified 
horseshoe like flowers to attract 
ferrous debris. 

Often found growing in disused 
carpenters shops or derelict DIY 
stores where discarded, frequently 
rusty screws and nails are 

Mercuryata brokenthermometeri 

This rare and beautiful plant only 
flowers for a fraction of a second at 
the instant a Mercury containing 
thermometer hits the floor and 

Little is recorded of its evolutionary 
history or biology and no known 
photographs exist of its tiny, 
exquisite and short lived bloom, 
such is its transience. 

Leadileadi dangledownia 

The Chichester Cathedral Droop 
Primrose takes root in the gaps 
between the lead tiles on church 

Due to the concentration of the 
heavy metal in the flower heads, 
they become too weighty for their 
slender stems and typically hang 
over the roof edge. 

Look for the bullet shaped fruits. 

3 } 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Nastysharpia razorwirii 

Developing a single long tendril 
bearing sharp, thorn-like 
projections, this plant surrounds 
itself with its own fence of 
impenetrable razor wire. 

It absorbs extra nutrients from 
small birds and animals that 
become caught up in the wire. 

Unsuitable around children's play 

Cutleri silvaservicia 

Growing on the sites of closed 
down steelworks, where the 
memory of a golden age of cutlery 
manufacture still permeates the 
soil, this plant provides a handy 
source of eating utensils for the 
passing vagrant. 

Exclusive to the Sheffield area and 
completely dishwasher safe. 

Pylonia livewiri 

A parasite of electric pylons, the 
single, beautiful brass lily flower 
bares cable-like, insulated stamens 
with live tips which can carry 
charges of over 20,000 volts. 

It draws nutrient directly from the 
National Grid, and an eruption of 
Pylonia livewiri in the area was 
blamed for the Great Chelmsford 
Power Fluctuation of 1973. 

Do not pick. 

i ^ } 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Ballistica cannonballia 

The heavy, spherical fruits of this 
plant were brought into Britain 
during the American War of 
Independence by travellers and 
sold dishonestly as souvenir 
cannon balls. 

Known as the Connecticut Artillery 
Ironberry, the seeds are fired for 
distances of up to 20 feet during 
the autumn. Exudes a strong smell 
of gunpowder. 

Osram hundredwattii 

One of the few plants to produce 
its own luminescence. It will 
remain lit during the hours of 
darkness to attract pollinating 
moths, but switches itself off in the 

If planted in gardens it should 
never be arranged in parallel rows 
for fear of confusing night flying 

Hangus yercoatupi 

The delicate Coathanger 
Branchweed winds its wiry stalk 
around tree limbs in a very 
characteristic way. 

Young plants hang from the parent 
until they are mature enough to 
find their own branch. 

In Cleckheaton, where it grows in 
abundance, it is often harvested 
for use in domestic wardrobes. The 
single flower has the aroma of 

{ 5 } 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Ironia filing! 

A symbiote of park railings, the 
iron filing like seeds of Ironia filingi 
are expelled with great velocity 
whenever the plant is disturbed. 

The plants benefit from the 
relationship by having a plentiful 
supply of the element they so 
crave. The railings benefit because 
the cantankerous blooms 
discourage children from climbing 

Boingium boingii 

A rare example of a plant that has 
evolved its own means of 
locomotion, Salisbury Bouncewort 
has a highly modified root system 
with which it can spring around to 
avoid danger or seek nutrition. 

In the Wiltshire championships of 
1934 a plant trained by a Mr D.B. 
Barton cleared a record height of 
37 inches in a single bound. In 
1942 these contests were made 
illegal for safety reasons. 

BuUdogium claspus 

This rather aggressive, 
insectivorous predator clamps 
itself onto the branches of trees in 
orchards where it catches bees and 
butterflies lured by the sweet fruits 
in its snapping jaws. 

Injuries to fruit pickers are 
common. Last year in Kent alone it 
was blamed for 53 finger 
lacerations, 4 damaged noses and 
a scrotal blood blister. 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Snippisnippi prunei 

Bearing scissor-like protuberances, 
any rivals for space growing too 
close to specimens of Snippisnippi 
prunei tend to get cut down in their 
prime (see illustration). 

However, if properly cultivated and 
grown close to roses, it will keep 
the bushes nicely pruned. Avoid 
examining this plant too closely in 
the wild as it can result in an 
unsightly haircut. 

Washeri steeliumi 

The Wolverhampton Washer 
Spurge grows in abandoned 
plumber's workshops. The washers 
serve to support the weaker 
branches of this feeble shrub. 

The Long Nosed Washer Beetle is a 
major pest. The male collects the 
washers on an elongated proboscis 
in order to impress his mate. 

It doesn't. 

Ouchius mindyerthumbia 

Sexual polymorphism in this 
species has produced widely 
differing males and females. 

The males are weak, nail-like 
plants that grow in soft wood, 
planking, railway sleepers etc. 

The larger, hammer- headed 
females are constantly required to 
bang the males into the wood to 
prevent them becoming uprooted. 


Flora Metallicum Britannica 

{ 8 

Wormwoodi scrubsus 

The Pentonville Prison Tulip has 
long roots which are fortified with 
iron and form a cage in which 
spiders, woodlice or centipedes 
become trapped. 

These unfortunates are kept in 
custody until required as food, at 
which point the roots squeeze the 
life from their bodies which the 
plant then absorbs. A favourite of 
Tory ministers. 

Serratia amputatum 

Extremely rare, this shrub sized 
plant carries a combination of 
circular and straight bladed saws 
at its branch ends with which it 
chops down neighbouring trees. 

No specimens have been recorded 
since 1972 when the so called 
Kamikaze virus resulted in the 
shrubs cutting themselves down, 
effectively committing mass 

Threadturnium boltii 

The Northallerton Nut and Bolt 
plant produces fruiting bodies that 
gradually work their way up 
threaded stems until ready to pop 
off the top when ripe. 

Predation by Spanner Weevils, 
which unscrew and eat the fruits 
before they are ripe, has caused a 
serious reduction in numbers. 

An endangered species. 


Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Abitbreezya anchori 

The Venezuelan Anchor Orchid 
thrives in gale force conditions and 
maintains its grip on the substrata 
with a root modified into a heavy, 
anchor shaped fixation device. 

In their native habitat on the 
plains of South America, gauchos 
often tether llamas to them. Here, 
where they thrive in the Trossachs, 
Scotsmen commonly drape heavy 
tartan kilts over them to dry. 

Spheroidium ballbearingi 

Resembling a pile of ball bearings 
this plant is essentially sessile. 

However each year on November 
13th (The feast of St. Norbert, the 
patron saint of shiny balls) two 
long tendrils are extended which 
bear the fruit pods. These burst 
showering the surrounding area 
with tiny, rolling, silver seeds. 

These should not be used as 
birthday cake decorations 

Kitchensi foili 

The Kitchen Foil Iris can unroll its 
main body section to catch the 
available sunshine. On overcast 
days it can often be seen almost 
completely unwound. 

An endangered species, largely due 
to magpies pecking off the 
attractive, shiny flowers and 
ramblers tearing off large chunks 
to wrap their sandwiches in. 


Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Screwinia uncorki 

During summer The Boston Spa 
Bottleweed produces seeds in 
glassy containers which hang from 
the upper section of the stem. The 
lower stem develops corkscrew 
shaped projections to uncork the 
seed pods when ripe. 

This native species is under threat 
from the imported Screwinia 
cheapi which produces plastic seed 
capsules with screw tops. 

Coggi interlockia 

Introduced into this country by 
Swiss watchmakers, the tiny 
Alpine Cog Daisy grows in clusters 
on breezy hillsides. 

The gentle whirr of the interlocking 
blooms slowly turning in the wind 
is a common sound on the moors 
above Heckmondwike. Has been 
cultivated in the past by clockwork 
toy manufacturers. 

Plumbius pipeworkia 

A highly evolved, self watering 
plant with hollow, pipe-like stems, 
inbuilt pressure valves and anti- 
corrosive sap. 

The roots tap into household water 
supplies and can be responsible 
for spiralling domestic bills. 

Its chief predator is the Variegated 
Plumber Worm, although it can 
rarely be relied on to turn up when 
meant to. 


Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Hootus brassbandica 

One of the few plants able to signal 
danger to its fellow flowers, the 
Brighouse and Rastrick Trumpet 
Thistle ejaculates a brassy blast 
from highly modified, horn-like 
organs to warn of marauding 
crows etc. 

Immediately all the flowers in the 
colony snap shut until the threat 
has gone. There are three sub- 
species: Alto, Soprano and Tenor. 

Graspium extenda 

A seemingly docile, flower which 
grows close to the ground and is 
an attractive copper colour. 

However, triggered by soil 
vibration, it can suddenly shoot 
out a vicious, grasping arm 
meaning almost certain death to 
any passing rodent or bird. 

Due to its tendency to abruptly 
destroy life it is known colloquially 
as 'The Tax Collector'. 

Embroidium pincushionia 

The Spennymoor Stitchbane 
actually sews its roots into the 
ground by mens of needle-like 
structures at their tips. 

The soft, spherical flowers fire out 
pin shaped seeds on autumn 

Warning! Should only be handled 
by qualified botanists wearing 
protective thimbles. 

Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Tinnus opencannia 

Found largely on the sites of 
derelict canneries where the soil is 
rich in aluminium, the new, tender 
shoots are allowed to develop 
within protective containers until 
they are strong enough to bust 

In inhospitable conditions it can 
remain dormant for long periods of 
time, at least until the best before 
date embossed on the top is 

Excavatum excavatum 

Unique in that it autoplants its 

saplings, the Kennilworth Digger 
Bush is armed with toothed earth 
buckets used to scoop out small 
holes for the young plants. 

In 2010 one excavated a horde of 
Anglo Saxon coins. As a gesture of 
kindness this specimen is now 
kept at the British Archaeological 
Foundation's HQ on the Isle of 
Sheppey, on a south facing 

Stainless steelireflectium 

The Mirror Orchid has an 
extraordinary method of 
pollination. A large, shiny, erect, 
steel petal serves as a mirror in 
which hovering insects admire 

As they do so their bodies rub 
against the single protruding 
stamen and become coated in 
pollen. Blamed for causing 
pathological narcissism in bees. 


Flora Metallicum Britannica 

Mastered in Whitby by Chris Corner 
Thanks to Richard Sanderson and Mark Browne 

Linear Obsessional